The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One, has an incredibly talented and remarkably diverse cast with a woman as the lead. But in a galaxy far, far away, it still seems next to impossible for a woman of color to be the hero.
Don’t get me wrong. Felicity Jones is brilliant as Jyn Erso, backed by a crew of rogue allies: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus and Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. While Jones is incredibly well-cast for the role, the fault lies not within her performance, but within the film industry.
Jyn Erso is an extremely well-written feminist hero. Even when she is being captured, she thinks and responds clearly, fighting her way out of every situation she finds herself in. Her actions are informed by the fact that she was raised as a soldier, was abandoned by everyone who loved her, and has lived alone for many years.
Along the way, she is paired with the brave fighter Cassian Andor, who becomes a brother-in-arms — rather than the knight who saves the damsel. There is strong chemistry between the two lead characters, but they’re far too busy saving the world to acknowledge it. (One would hope that the only two people who can save the world might focus on that, rather than what’s going on in their pants.)
Do not expect Jyn to exclaim, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” or anything of the sort: she is here to save herself and the surrounding worlds that are at risk of destruction by the Empire. There is no uncomfortable metal bikini for fanboys to gawk at, or flowing white princess gowns: Jyn is dressed for battle at all times in sensible pants and boots.
With such a fantastically written heroine who is truly well acted, it stings to say this: it isn’t good enough. In a perfect world, Jones got the part because she was truly the best actress out of hundreds of candidates from diverse backgrounds, and race was never a issue. But this world is not perfect — and we need to stop casting white women exclusively for lead roles. We need to show that women of color can be heroes, too.